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map showing the prevalence of "Dharmic" (yellow) and "Abrahamic" (purple) religions in each country.

Dharmic religions are a family of religions from India, encompassing Hinduism and the three related religions that have spawned from it. Dharmic religions are one of the two major schools of religion in the world, the other being Abrahamic religions. The theology and philosophy of Dharmic religions center on the concept of dharma, which is a sanskrit term for "fixed decree, law, duty", especially in a spiritual sense of "natural law, reality". It is mostly influential across the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, and central Asia, with influence felt throughout the world. These Dharmic religions are very closely interrelated. The main Dharmic religions are: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.[1][2][3] Many people consider all of these religions to be sects of Hinduism. It is only after the independence of India that Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddism were counted as distinct religions in the census.

The Dharmic faiths

According to the Encarta encyclopedia published by Microsoft Corporation:

Hinduism, being one of the oldest of the four Dharmic religions, is thought to have been around since 1500 BCE. Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism share with Hinduism the concept of dharma along with other key concepts, and the four religions are said to belong to the dharmic traditions. At one level Hinduism can refer to the beliefs or practices of followers of any of the dharmic traditions. The word Hinduism retains this sense in some usages in the Indian Constitution of 1950. In the field of religious studies, however, Hinduism is used in a narrower sense to distinguish it from the other religions of Indian origin. [4]


Main article: Hinduism
See also: Shrauta

Hinduism (Devanagari: हिन्दू धर्मHindū Dharma or सनातन धर्मSanātana Dharma or the eternal dharma) is considered to be the oldest living religion in the world.[5][6] Unlike most other major religions, Hinduism has no single founder[7][8] and is based on a number of religious texts developed over many centuries that contain spiritual insights and practical guidance for religious life. Among such texts, the Vedas are the most ancient. Other scriptures include the eighteen Puranas and the epic poems Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Bhagavad Gita, which is contained within the Mahabharata, is a widely studied scripture that summarizes the spiritual teachings of the Vedas.[9]

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, with approximately 1 billion adherents (2005 figure), of whom approximately 890 million live in India.[10]


Main article: Buddhism

A replica of an ancient statue of Gautama Buddha, found in Sarnath, near Varanasi.

Buddhism (also known as Buddha Dharma (Pali: धमा Dhamma), "the teachings of the awakened one") is a dharmic, non-theistic religion, a way of life, a practical philosophy, and arguably a form of psychology. Buddhism focuses on the teachings of Gautama Buddha (Pali: Gotama Buddha), who was born in Kapilavastu, ancient India which now falls under modern day Nepal, with the name Siddhārtha Gautama (Pāli: Siddhattha Gotama) around the fifth century BCE[11]. Buddhism spread throughout the Indian subcontinent in the five centuries following the Buddha's passing, and propagated into Central, Southeast, and East Asia over the next two millennia.

Today, Buddhism is divided primarily into three traditions: Theravāda (Sanskrit: Sthaviravāda), Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna. Buddhism continues to attract followers worldwide, and it is considered a major world religion. According to one source ([6]), "World estimates for Buddhists vary between 230 and 500 million, with most around 350 million." However, estimates are uncertain for several countries. Buddhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and traditional Chinese religion, respectively.[12] Buddhism is the fourth-largest organised religion in the world, and the monks' order Sangha is amongst the oldest organisations on earth.


Main article: Jainism

The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolizes the Jain Vow of Ahimsa, meaning non-violence. The word in the middle is "ahimsa." The wheel represents the dharmacakra, to halt the cycle of reincarnation through relentless pursuit of truth.

Jainism (pronounced in English as /ˈdʒeɪ.nɪzm̩/), traditionally known as Jain Dharma (जैन धर्म), is a religion and philosophy originating in ancient India. A minority in modern India, with growing immigrant communities in the United States, Western Europe, Africa, the Far East and elsewhere, Jains continue to sustain the ancient Shraman (श्रमण) or ascetic tradition.

Jains have significantly influenced the religious, ethical, political and economic spheres in India for about three millennia. Jainism stresses spiritual independence and equality of all life with particular emphasis on non-violence. Self-control (व्रत, vratae) is vital for attaining Keval Gyan and eventually moksha, or realization of the soul's true nature.

The Jain Sangha (संघ), or community, has four components: monks (साधु), nuns (sadhvi), laymen, or Shravakas (श्रावक), and laywomen, (Shravikas). A Shravaka(श्रावक)follows basic principles or "Niyam".

Perhaps the smallest, Jainism is also the second-oldest Dharmic religion. It is a religious system that does not recognize a Godhead, and that reveres liberated souls known as Siddhas. The followers of Jainism firmly reject the Vedas, but strongly adhere to dharma, moksha and nirvana.


Main article: Sikhism

Guru Nanak Dev Ji[13] was the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Gurus of the Sikhs. He is revered not only by Sikhs, but also by Hindus and Muslims in the Punjab and across the Indian subcontinent. [14]

Sikhism (IPA: ['siːkɪz(ə)m]

or ['sɪk-] 

, sikkhī, IPA: ['sɪk.kʰiː] ) is a religion that began in sixteenth century Northern India with the teachings of Nanak and nine successive human gurus. This system of religious philosophy and expression has been traditionally known as the Gurmat (literally the teachings of the gurus) or the Sikh Dharma. Sikhism comes from the word Sikh, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit root śiṣya meaning "disciple" or "learner", or śikṣa meaning "instruction."[15][16] Sikhism is the fifth-largest organised religion in the world.

The principal belief in Sikhism is faith in one GodVāhigurū—represented using the sacred symbol of ēk ōaṅkār. Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God. The followers of Sikhism are ordained to follow the teachings of the ten Sikh gurus, or enlightened leaders, as well as the holy scripture—the Gurū Granth Sāhib—which includes the selected works of many authors from diverse socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. The text was decreed by Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, as the final guru of the Khalsa Panth. Sikhism's traditions and teachings are distinctly associated with the history, society and culture of the Punjab.

Adherents of Sikhism are known as Sikhs (students or disciples) and number over 23 million across the world. However, most Sikhs live in the state of Punjab in India; prior to partition, millions of Sikhs lived in what is now the Punjab province of Pakistan.


Main article: Ayyavazhi

The Symbol of Ayyavazhi, symbolising the ultimate aim of dharma experienced in Sahasrara

Ayyavazhi (Tamil:அய்யாவழி – Path towards the Age of Dharma) is a religion which originated in South India in the mid-ninteenth century.[17][18][19] Ayyavazhi is not officially recognised as a separate religion by the government of India; its followers are counted with Hinduism during the Indian census.[20][21][22] Ayyavazhi is a bit exclusivistic but primarily Dharmic. The religion and its ideas are based on the religious texts of Ayyavazhi that contain spiritual insights and practical guidance for religious as well as social life. Ayyavazhi dharma is conceptualized in two ways: for acheiving social and spiritual goals.

Ayyavazhi is spread throughout India and it has more than 8000 worship centers across the nation. But the followers of Ayyavazhi are highly populated in southern parts of the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.[23]

What is Dharma?

Main article: Dharma

The word Dharma (Sanskrit; "धर्म" in the Devanagari script) or dhamma (Pali) is used in most or all philosophies and religions of Indian origin, the dharmic faiths, namely Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma), Buddhism, Jainism. Dharma also is practiced in the Surat Shabda Yoga traditions. In its oldest form, dharman, it first appears in the Vedas.

It is difficult to provide a single concise definition for Dharma (life fails to convey its connoted complexity). The word has a long and varied history and complex set of meanings and interpretations. Certain Westerners and Orientalists have proposed a number of possible translations, from "justice" to "religion", however these definitions have evolved with their associated usage in western culture.

"Dharma" derives from the verbal root dhri, which simply means "manner of being." The term must therefore be understood in its original (i.e. metaphysical) context, that of a conformity to a divine or creative principle at work in an individual and in nature. It represents the individual's internal law, to which obedience must be given if that individual life is to live in accordance with a divine will. This is what Hindus consider the sole or primary purpose of life. It explains how justice finds its place among the many modern definitions of the word dharma.

Rene Guenon, father of the 20th century school of perennial philosophy, defines it as such:

It [dharma] is, so to speak, the essential nature of a being, comprising the sum of its particular qualities or characteristics, and determining, by virtue of the tendencies or dispositions it implies, the manner in which this being will conduct itself, either in a general way or in relation to each particular circumstance. The same idea may be applied, not only to a single being, but also to an organized collectivity, to a species, to all the beings included in a cosmic cycle or state of existence, or even to the whole order of the universe; it then, at one level or another, signifies conformity with the essential nature of beings. (Guenon's "Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines")

This said, certain Western definitions of the word must be considered in the light of this original definition—that is, as branches from a single root. Monier Monier-Williams, for example (while covering the entire scope it would seem), gives its primary definition as:

that which is established or firm, steadfast decree, statute, ordinance, law; usage, practice, customary observance or prescribed conduct, duty; right, justice (often as a synonym of punishment); virtue, morality, religion, religious merit, good works,

of which the first, "that which is established or firm" seems to be the most ancient and etymological. Dharma is cognate with the Latin firmus, the origin of the word firm. Meanings related to law, morality, scripture, and teachings were probably acquired through analogy, by being regarded as firm and called as such. For the phenomenological or psychological meaning, see below.

Dr. David Frawley, an expert on Hindu philosophy and religion, describes Dharma as:

a universal tradition has room for all faiths and all religious and spiritual practices regardless of the time or country of their origin. Yet it places religious and spiritual teachings in their appropriate place relative to the ultimate goal of Self-realization, to which secondary practices are subordinated. Sanatan Dharma also recognizes that the greater portion of human religious aspirations has always been unknown, undefined and outside of any institutionalized belief. Sanatan Dharma thereby gives reverence to individual spiritual experience over any formal religious doctrine. Wherever the Universal Truth is manifest; there is Sanatan Dharma—whether it is in a field of religion, art or science, or in the life of a person or community. Wherever the Universal Truth is not recognized, or is scaled down or limited to a particular group, book or person, even if done so in the name of God, there Sanatan Dharma ceases to function, whatever the activity is called.

According to the Natchintanai Scripture:

By the laws of Dharma that govern body and mind, you must fear sin and act righteously. Wise men by thinking and behaving in this way become worthy to gain bliss both here and hereafter.

Yama, the lord of death, is also known as Dharmaraj, since he works within the laws of karma and morality, regulated by divine principles. More familiar is the embodiment of Dharma in Lord Rama, an avatar of Vishnu. The eldest Pandava, Yudhishthira was referred to as Dharmaraj owing to his steadfastness to Truth & Dharma.

In scripture translations dharma is often best left untranslated, as it has acquired a lively life of its own in English that is more expressive than any simplistic translation. Common translations and glosses include right way of living, divine law, path of righteousness, order, faith, natural harmony, rule, fundamental, and duty. Dharma may be used to refer to rules of the operation of the mind or universe in a metaphysical system, or to rules of comportment in an ethical system.

Status in India

Followers of the Jain and Sikh faiths are considered broader Hindus according to the social-fabric of India. An extra-judicial observation of the Supreme Court of India in 2005 stated that "Sikhs and Jains are part of the wider Hindu community." These two faiths are either regarded as subsects, or sub-castes of the broader Hindu religion, primarily due to the coherence in ideologies, interworship and social intermingling of the followers of these religions.

Hinduism and Buddhism share many common features including Sanskrit, yoga, karma and dharma,Nirvana, moksha and reincarnation. India also is home to the government of Tibet in exile under Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.


The Emblem of India is a replica of Ashoka Pillar

The tricolour Indian flag has the Ashoka Chakra (Wheel of Ashoka) in the central horizontal band. The Emblem of India is a replica of Ashoka Pillar.

Birth and history

Further information: Vedic civilization
Further information: Historical Vedic religion
Further information: History of Hinduism

The earliest ancestor of Dharmic religions was the Vedic religion of the Indo-Aryans who founded the Vedic civilization of ancient India. It, in turn, had its roots in the original Indo-Iranian religion of the Aryans, from which also sprang the Zoroastrian faith. Vedic religion laid the foundations to modern Hinduism. The four Vedas composed during the Vedic civilization, i.e. Rigveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda and Yajurveda form the holiest texts of Hinduism. The founders of all Dharmic reliigons have been influential Hindus who explored and concentrated on specific aspects of Hinduism to form a distinctive and relatively limited set of beliefs.

Ancient Hindu kingdoms arose and spread the religion and traditions across South East Asia, particularly Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and what is now central Vietnam. A form of Hinduism different from Indian roots is practised in Bali, Indonesia, where Hindus form 90% of the population. Indian migrants have taken Hinduism and Hindu culture to South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and other countries in and around the Indian Ocean, and in the nations of the West Indies and the Caribbean. In addition, Hinduism does not allow conversion of individuals from other religions to it. The spread of Indian culture coupled with the non-conversion principles of Hinduism allowed later dharmic religions, like Buddhism, to be readily adopted by the natives who took to Indian culture but could not convert to Hinduism. These religions had similar features to those introduced by the ancient Hindu kingdoms which added to their popularity.

Exchanges with Abrahamic religions

Further information: Comparing Eastern and Western religious traditions

Dharmic religions and Abrahamic religions were conceived over 7,000 years ago in two opposite parts of Asia, and share a complex and conflicting dynamic. Possible connections between Indo-Aryan traditions and Hebrew culture may date back to Abraham himself, since the Mitanni influenced areas associated with him, notably Haran. The root of the words "Abraham" and "Brahma" (Hindu God of Creation) also appear to be the same[How to reference and link to summary or text]. The inscriptions found from excavations in ancient Mitanni sites reveal agreements entered into by invoking the names of Vedic gods such as Mitra and Varuna, thus possibly indicating that the Vedic religion predated the Abrahamic religions by a fair amount of time. More direct connections would have followed the absorption of Judea into the Persian empire in which Zoroastrianism was the dominant faith.

Some speculative writers have claimed that Jesus visited India and learned spiritual practices there from Buddhist and Hindu monks. There is a passage in Bhavishya Purana mentioning a man named Issa from the Middle East that have been used to support this theory. This and other passages in this particular Purana are however later insertions as seen from an Arabic-styled spelling.

In Indonesia, many Javanese Muslims practice a version of Islam deeply influenced by Indonesian Hinduism, and are known as Abangan.

Dharma and Taoism

Taoism, which is rooted in ancient Chinese philosophies, includes philosophical ideas which are similar to Dharmic concepts. In fact, the term 'Tao' itself has been translated by some Chinese scholars as 'The Way' or 'The Natural Way' -- much in the manner of some translations of 'Dharma'.

Dharma and Zoroastrianism

Both Hinduism and Zoroastrianism are descended from the Indo-Iranian religion of the Aryan tribes who migrated to both Persia and India. As a result, they share many similarities, including language, scripture, ceremonies, and traditions. The moral law of Zoroastrianism, "Daena" (Good Religion), is similar in many ways to the Hindu Dharma. However, as the Zoroastrian faith does not descend from the Vedic school of Indo-Iranian theology, it is not considered a Dharmic faith.

See also


  1. [1] From the River of Heaven: Hindu and Vedic Knowledge for the Modern Age by David Frawley
  2. [2] Pagan Theology: paganism as a world religion by Michael York
  3. [3] List of religions
  4. [4] MSN Encarta: The Dharmic Tradition
  5. An Introduction to Hinduism, "The Origin of Hinduism" on
  6. Hinduism and the Clash of Civilizations by David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)
  7. Osborne, E: "Accessing R.E. Founders & Leaders, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism Teacher's Book Mainstream.", page 9. Folens Limited, 2005
  8. Klostermaier, K:"A Survey of Hinduism", page 1. SUNY Press, 1994.
  9. See Gītā Dhyānam
  10. Adherents
  12. Garfinkel, Perry. "Buddha Rising." National Geographic Dec. 2005: 88-109.
  13. Nanak may be referred to by many names and titles such as Baba Nanak or Nanak Shah.
  14. Duggal, Kartar Singh (1988). Philosophy and Faith of Sikhism, xxii, Himalayan Institute Press. ISBN 0-89389-109-6.
  15. Singh, Khushwant (2006). The Illustrated History of the Sikhs, 15, India: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-567747-1.
  16. (Punjabi) Nabha, Kahan Singh (1930). Gur Shabad Ratnakar Mahan Kosh/ਗੁਰ ਸ਼ਬਦ ਰਤਨਾਕਰ ਮਹਾਨ ਕੋਸ਼ (in Punjabi), 720. URL accessed 2006-05-29.
  17. V.T.Chellam's Thamizhaga Varalarum Panbadum, Page 492, "Ayyavazhi religion gets originated."
  18. G.Patrick's Religion and Subaltern Agency, Chapter 5, Page 91 "By the middle of the nineteenth century, AV had come to be a recognisable religious phenomenon, making its presence felt in South Tiruvitankur and in the southern parts of Tirunelveli."
  19. Samuel Mateer, The Land of Charity, [5] page 222 - 223.
  20. Dr.R.Ponnu's, Sri Vaikunda Swamigal and the Struggle for Social Equality in South India, Ram Publishers, 2000, Page 64, Birth of a New Sect. (This book says that Ayyavazhi was a sect of Hinduism, Officially which indirectly states that Ayyavazhi followers are counted with Hinduism during Census)
  21. Madurai News Letter, Thozhamai Illam, Kanyakumari, Page 9. This site (News letter) tells about a discussion in swamithoppe, and Ayyavazhi as an important sect of Hinduism See this Pdf
  22. Dr.R.Ponnu's, Sri Vaikunda Swamigal and Struggle for Social Equality in South India, Ram Publishers, 2000, Page 98.
  23. V.T. Chellam's, Thamizhaka Varalarum Panpadum Chapter 12, Page 494 "The refined religious system by Vaikunda Samikal spread in the Southern districts of Thiruvithancore and Tamil Nadu."

Further reading

  • Eastern Religion: Origins - Beliefs - Practices - Holy Texts - Sacred Places, ed. Michael Coogan. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-522191-5

ru:Дхармические религии de:Dharma

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